For most who suspect they have a hearing loss, their audiologist will confirm this with the results of a hearing test. But what happens when you pass your hearing test but still struggle to hear in noisy places?
A condition known as hidden hearing loss is a brain condition not easily identified on standard hearing tests.
Understanding Hidden Hearing Loss
Hidden hearing loss is a condition not detectable on traditional hearing tests.
According to one study, the number of patients experiencing this condition could be as high as 10 percent. The researchers looked at more than 100,000 patients over a 16-year period. They found that about one in every ten who visited the audiologist complaining of hearing loss produced normal audiograms.
Signs of Hidden Hearing Loss
While there is no established set of guidelines to make a diagnosis, experts agree that there are four main signs of this condition:
- A strong sense that you have hearing loss, even after passing a hearing test
- A preference for quiet settings for conversations
- Feeling easily distracted or unable to focus in noisy settings
- Hearing people incorrectly
Experimental tests are being developed at Massachusetts Eye and Ear with the hopes of being able to diagnose the condition. One test involves measuring electrical signals from the surface of the ear canal to determine how well the sound wave information is being encoded. The second test requires patients to wear glasses that measure the changes in the diameter of their pupils while listening to speech in noise. Pupils react to how much effort it takes to understand. While only in the infant stage of development now, both tests show promise.
How You Hear
Hearing involves the ears and brain. When a soundwave enters the ear, it hits the eardrum and creates a vibration. This vibration is passed through the bones in the middle ear, reaching the hair cells within the inner ear. These hair cells, known as cilia, move in response to the vibration and create an electrical impulse. This impulse is passed through the auditory nerve, crossing over synapses and reaching the brain.
Damage to the hair cells within the inner ear is the source of traditional sensorineural hearing loss. Hidden hearing loss, on the other hand, occurs when there is a problem between the synapses.
When the signal eventually reaches the brain, it is missing information, which is needed to interpret words. This is often referred to as cochlear synaptopathy.
Causes of Hidden Hearing Loss
Experts agree that aging and noise pollution are the main causes of this condition. According to Dr. Catherine Palmer, Director of Audiology and Hearing Aids at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Most researchers feel that long exposures to even low-level noise may cause hidden hearing loss and most agree that the aging auditory system reveals this problem. We lose some synapses as we age.”
Often, hidden hearing loss is misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or central auditory processing disorder.
Treatment for Hidden Hearing Loss
While there is no treatment specifically designed for hidden hearing loss, most with mild to moderate hearing loss can benefit from the use of traditional hearing aids.
Lifestyle changes that may help include:
- Finding quiet places to talk
- Dining out earlier in the evening to avoid the busiest times
- Sitting near the front of meetings or lectures
- Creating small group discussions at large events
To learn more about this condition or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, contact Hearing Center of Lake Charles today.